The Four Steps

The Four Steps

As noted before, in terms of “popularity,” the five basic human movements from the Strength Coach’s perspective are in this order:
1. Push
2. Pull
3. Hinge
4. Squat
5. Loaded Carry
However, in terms of simple impact, the ability to be a “game changer” to an athlete, this is the order:
1. Loaded Carry
2. Squat
3. Hinge
4. Pull
5. Push
And, the five movements have an interesting relationship when one wants to move into the area of “Metabolic Conditioning.” I first heard this term in the late 1970s or early 1980s from the work of Ellington Darden. Essentially, Metabolic Conditioning is that odd feeling when one moves from one movement, say Squats, to another movement like a Pull Up and even though the heart rate is within reason (cardiovascular conditioning, so to speak) and the muscles about to be used are fresh (so strength endurance isn’t an issue) but the athlete can’t gear up enough “whatever” to do the job.

Don’t go crazy with metabolic conditioning. Yes, it has a value. Yes, it is a “finisher” or a “gasser,” but it can also lead to a variety of issues from simple joint issues from crappy reps to some serious medical conditions that seem to be sweeping some facilities.

The important thing is the mix. Patterning movements work well for Metabolic Conditioning because the amount of movement “error” is going to be minimal. Mixing them with the other movement is the issue. Very simply, I believe that there are four natural combinations and they move naturally through this system. The key has always been: “what to mix with it (the basic patterning movement)?”

A few years ago, I discovered the simple combo called “The Eagle.” Our school mascot was the Soaring Eagle, so the name was a natural. It combined the simplest of the Loaded Carries, the patterning movement “Farmer Walks,” with the basic grinding Squat, the Double Kettlebell Front Squat. I am going to say “simply” here, but the workload is incredible. Simply, we had the athlete do eight Double Kettlebell Front Squats, then drop the weight to his sides and Farmer Walk for twenty meters, then another eight squats and repeat until you complete eight circuits. That goal is often not met.

There are some hidden benefits to this combo. The athlete needs two kettlebells and never puts them down. So, the metabolic hit is accelerated by the grip work, the wrestling with the bells and the sheer volume of carrying the load. It was this “Eagle” that made me think about the “ideal” combos.
Patterning movements work well with Grinds. However, they all don’t work well together! Oh, sure, you can slap together anything, but the “Four Steps” are ideal for most people.

As you look up the Intervention chart, it is easy to see that the Patterning Movement of Loaded Carries (Farmer Walks) was simply mixed with the Grinding Movement of Squats (Double Kettlebell Front Squats). For whatever reason, those two Kettlebells also were a sign from heaven that this was going to be a hard workout.

Moving up the chart, note that the Patterning Movement for the Squat (Goblet Squat) work extraordinarily well with the Grinding Movement of the Hinge (Bulgarian Goat Bag Swings). This single Kettlebell workout can really stoke your fires. It doesn’t have to be complex in numbers or structure, but try it.

The next movement has actually changed the way I teach both the Hinge and the rowing motions for pulls. Using the Wall RDL mixed with a Row seems to really protect the lower back (an issue for many lifters who row, including me) and seems to light up the whole back from an inch below the knee through the neck. That’s a lot of muscles.

The fourth and final combo as we walk the “ladder” up the lifts is combining the Patterning Movement of the Pull (Bat Wings) with the Grinding Push (Bench Press or Push Ups). It becomes similar to the classic bodybuilding “Superset” but the athlete is deeply protecting his shoulders. Many trainees tend to do far too many horizontal presses and totally neglect the opposite pull. That’s also why many trainees have shoulder issues.

The clever ones who have looked at these four have added: “Why don’t you mix Planks with Car Pushing?” Now, that is funny at least at one level, but one better be fully planked when push a car or a prowler.

These four combos:
1. Farmer Walks and Double Kettlebell Front Squats
2. Goblet Squats and Bulgarian Goat Belly Swings
3. Wall RDLs and Rows
4. Batwings and Push Up
can be a training program in themselves. The first two are clearly the best simple workouts I have ever used. The second two are more traditional bodybuilding movements, but work well with even the newest of trainees.

  • Dan Martin


  • Bart

    How am I supposed to stick to my program when you keep churning out all of these great new components.
    Ah, I get it, you are temping us; in order to enhance the “character building” component” Tim and Dan Martin speak of.
    Sinister, but I like it.

  • Dan John

    This is just some additional points about how to mix the idea of, say, planking and slow strength, into a program. Simple, of course…

  • jamej

    It’s a keeper. Its perfectly consistent with a long record of good guidance. Simple and tough. I always think of that Marine saying when I read your articles, “it’s smart to be hard and hard to be smart.” Following these ideas is smart and hard.

  • Dan Martin

    Naturally, those “combos” can be made into some out-of-sight “giant sets” too! Talk about good clean American fun!!!

  • Gant

    Very nice. I’ve used goblet squats and wall touches to pattern movements in children to help with movement on the mat. I’m able to describe movements they wouldn’t understand otherwise. Thanks for your work.

  • Matt Steadman

    Dan John, I can’t get enough of your blog. “The eagle” sounds horribly awesome and I can’t wait to try it!!!!!!!

  • Mark Blakemore

    top shelf as always. i appreciate that you field test your findings rather than make stuff up. your stuff delivers. oh, and happy Fathers Day!

  • Dan

    Great stuff.

    What is the ‘intervention chart’ though?

  • Josh Myers

    Tried “The Eagle” today at the end of my workout. Was every bit as awesomely terrible as I was afraid it was going to be. Thanks for the inspiration – love your blog!

  • Christopher Barber

    Hey Dan John – Great stuff as always. I read at Tnation that you are at discus camp – you should go and try to find Mark Watts – he is the head Strength Coach – and ask him to show you the training facilities there. It’s worth checking into.

  • Zack

    “A 53# kettlebell each hand might be too easy for the Eagle, but I’ll use it…”-My thought before trying the workout. Crushing, and I didn’t finish it without having to set them down once. I’m feeling the effects of it all over my body 30 hours later and in some surprising places. Thank you. Big time keeper.

  • Dan John

    This is a pretty good piece. I should have made it into an article….maybe I will any way, but I sure like it a few weeks later still….
    Sometimes, I read something I write and wish I could scrub it up a bit, but this is “in the wheelhouse.”

  • David

    I read this article, and remembered your position that “if it’s important, do it every day”.

    I decided to incorporate these 5 movements into each of my workouts over the past three weeks and the improvements have been amazing. I feel more balanced, stronger, more flexible and more energetic than I can ever remember feeling.

    And you’re right, loaded carries are a “game changer” as you say. I’d never done them before, but after three weeks of farmers walks and cross walks I tried closing the CoC#1 (which I’ve owned for god knows how long and I’ve never been able to close before) and mashed it, then jumped around the house with joy. Not even thinking I was training grip! I can see abs starting to sprout and traps starting to bulge and I attribute this to loaded carries, because I’ve never included them before and now that I have I’m seeing and feeling changes I’ve never seen and felt.

    I wanted to share my results and satisfaction with your article and its contents, for your benefit (it works, although I imagine you don’t need to be told that) and others who may need convincing. Thanks for the insight Dan John, the give movements will always have a part of each and every workout plan of mine from now on.

  • Tim Davis

    Would you consider ruck-marching a “loaded carry?” I know its not like the farmers with grip work, however, it is time under tension.
    I like this idea of “more time under the bar” for growth and I’d like to explore it for “tactical athletes” via rucking.

  • Tim Carrington

    I made myself a sled and annoy my neighbors by dragging and pushing it up and down the street. I also changed my workout to start with a Farmer’s walk or a waitress walk. Then go to squat and so on. I’ve noticed a big uptic in the gym for farmer’s walks these days. Best forearm and grip exercise.

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